Myanmar bucks slide in Asia on press freedom
China ranks 173rd and Hong Kong comes in at 58 in the index, down four places from year ago
Myanmar’s “paper revolution” has brought a sharp improvement in freedom of information in the former pariah state, bucking a general deterioration across much of Asia, a report said on Wednesday.
Thanks to “dramatic changes”, Myanmar rose to 151st out of 179 in the World Press Freedom Index, an improvement of 18 places, according to Reporters Without Borders.
“There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship,” RSF (Reporters Sans Frontieres) said.
The blossoming of media freedom stands in stark contrast to worsening repression elsewhere in Asia, according to the Paris-based media watchdog.
China ranked 173rd and Hong Kong came in at 58 in the index, down four places from year ago. North Korea (178th), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th) also languish near the bottom of the table as they “refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed”, RSF said.
“Kim Jong-un’s arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime’s absolute control of news and information,” it noted, referring to state control by Pyongyang.
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Malaysia fell 23 places to 145th, its lowest-ever, “because access to information is becoming more and more limited”.
Japan suffered an “alarming fall” from 22nd to 53rd place because of censorship of news related to the nuclear accident at a tsunami-stricken power plant in Fukushima, the report said.
The Indian subcontinent also saw a sharp deterioration, with journalists around the region facing the threat of violence.
In India (140th), “the authorities insist on censoring the web and imposing more and more taboos, while violence against journalists goes unpunished and the regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh become increasingly isolated”.
In August, Myanmar announced the end of pre-publication censorship that was a hallmark of decades of military rule which finished in 2011.
“Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favour of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organisations from exile, are significant steps towards genuine freedom of information,” RSF said.
After the “Arab springs” and other protest movements that brought many changes in the index last year, this year “marks a return to a more usual configuration”, according to the report.
Turkmenistan (177th) and Eritrea (179th) joined North Korea again at the bottom of the table, along with Syria (176th), Somalia (175th) and Iran (174th), while Finland, the Netherlands and Norway retained the top three ranks.